According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. With numbers like that, it is highly likely that you know someone who’s suffered from it if you haven’t yourself.
And depression isn’t the only mental illness out there – from anxiety to other mood disorders, there are quite a few.
Whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with one of these mental illnesses, there is a variety of things you can do to live a mentally healthier life.
We could all do with a little brain tune-up. Fortunately, science has some suggestions for how to overcome personality quirks or unhealthy patterns of thinking that leave people functioning less than optimally.
Here are some things that studies have found may improve people’s mental health:
- Make your bed every day.
By making your bed, you are starting to declutter your space. A decluttered space lowers your level of stress. You don’t waste mental energy.
- Value yourself.
Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid self-criticism. Make time for your hobbies and favorite projects, or broaden your horizons. Do a daily crossword puzzle, plant a garden, take dance lessons, learn to play an instrument or become fluent in another language. Learn how to fall in love with yourself and how to embrace yourself.
- Feeling stressed? Smile.
It may not be the easiest thing to do, but smiling can help to lower your heart rate and calm you down.
- Give yourself.
Volunteer your time and energy to help someone else. You’ll feel good about doing something tangible to help someone in need — and it’s a great way to meet new people.
- Pick up a hobby to make you feel good.
Not a hobby that will look good on your college apps or your résumé. Not something you’re eh about but that you think will make you a more well-rounded person. Literally, just something you find fulfilling or relaxing or cool.
- Take 30 minutes to go for a walk in nature –
it could be a stroll through a park, or a hike in the woods. Research shows that being in nature can increase energy levels, reduce depression and boost well-being.
- Try meditation.
Meditation is no longer some New Age fad that’s too intimidating to try. The practice has a host of health benefits, from better concentration to — yep — improved mental well-being. That being said, the practice doesn’t have to be complicated.
- Practice gratitude.
Life’s so much better when you’re acknowledging the bright side. Research suggests that expressing what you’re thankful for — from your dog to your favorite song on the radio — will improve your mental well-being.
- Put a small memory in a jar every day.
writing down the amazing things that happen to you when they happen works as a great gratitude exercise day to day.
- Say “no” more — without explaining yourself.
One of two things inevitably happen when you say “yes” to things you don’t want to do — either you do them at the expense of your own happiness or you make excuses and flake later at the expense of your relationships. Don’t do that. Be gracious and polite, sure, but look out for yourself. “No” is a complete sentence.
- Complain less.
Not only does it make you an unpleasant person to be around in general, but also complaining = ruminating in negative thoughts. And ruminating in negative thoughts takes a big toll on your mental health in the long run. Don’t hold stuff in, by any means, but make an effort to express those negative thoughts once and move on.
- Treat emotional pain like physical pain.
If you need a mental health day, take one. If you find getting out of bed getting more and more difficult, go to the doctor. Don’t brush something off because it’s not an obvious injury.
- Experiment with a new recipe, write a poem, paint or try a Pinterest project. Creative expression and overall well-being are linked.
- Break up the monotony.
Although our routines make us more efficient and enhance our feelings of security and safety, a little change of pace can perk up a tedious schedule. Alter your jogging route, plan a road-trip, take a walk in a different park, hang some new pictures or try a new restaurant.
- Write in a journal.
Putting pen to paper can be a liberating and cathartic experience. Try keeping a journal or even just writing your anxieties and tossing them in the trash. A 2012 study found that writing what’s stressing you out and then physically throwing it away may help clear your mind.
- Spend more alone time with yourself.
Carve out time once a week or month to date yourself. Take yourself out to dinner and a movie or go exploring around your city. Learn to be comfortable spending time alone. Learn to love your own company.
- Start every day by reminding yourself of one positive thing about your life.
We tend to hold on to negative thoughts a lot stronger than positive ones, so expressing gratitude before you get out of bed in the morning is a small, effective way to get on the right path and to connect with happier thoughts.
- Take time to laugh.
Hang out with a funny friend, watch a comedy or check out cute videos online. Laughter helps reduce anxiety.
- Celebrate little victories more often.
There’s nothing wrong with setting big goals for yourself this time of year — but achieving little goals is just as important, so celebrate those, too.
- Dance around while you do your housework.
Not only will you get chores done, but dancing reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and increases endorphins (the body’s “feel-good” chemicals).
- Quiet your mind.
Try meditating, Mindfulness and/or prayer. Relaxation exercises and prayer can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. In fact, research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy.